Let’s talk about death #dyingmatters

Spinderella cut it up one time….

Before I go any further I feel I should share two things with you, the first is that I am *very* comfortable talking about death and am thinking about blogging a post each day this week in support of the Dying Matters Awareness Week (so forgive me if it’s not your thing – although I’m hoping I might convince you otherwise), the second thing is that I currently have an earworm, Salt n Pepa Let’s Talk About Sex, that inspired this post title! So forgive me if I bust into 90s groove half way through.

In fact we probably don’t need to leave Salt n Pepa just yet, their 90s tune was focusing on safe sex and censorship in American mainstream media at the time. A few selected lyrics as follows:

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be

Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it

Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be

OK, this connection gets a little tenuous by the second verse but I’d argue there are strong parallels to death and dying, not in terms of censorship stopping us discussing it, but certainly society’s openness and people’s willingness to do so. Re-read those lyrics and replace the word sex with death to get my point!

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Dying Matters Awareness Week started today, their website is full of brilliant ideas, resources, research and suggestions for anyone who wishes to know more. Regular readers of this blog will know that my Dad is terminally ill and death is pretty much on my mind a lot at the moment. It’s interesting to me that my Mum and I have discussed his funeral wishes, but Dad and I haven’t ever had that conversation, we’ve started it on a couple of occasions but he brushes it off and says Mum knows what he’d want and he’s not too bothered because he’ll not be around for it (ever the pragmatist). In a way I think we left it too late for that to be an easy conversation. We have however discussed his wishes with regards to where he’d prefer to die, and he has an Advanced Directive and a Treatment Escalation Plan that I have a copy of, and I do feel able to advocate for his needs if I ever had to.

The interesting thing to me is that I’m quite comfortable with death, as a family I think we’ve had an unusually open approach to discussing death. My brother in law and my sister out law often comment on how much we’ll discuss death. In fact they are both uncomfortable with the likelihood that we’ll end up discussing death at some point each time our family gets together – and that’s not really to do with Dad’s illness or the fact we have older relatives. It’s always been normal to me to discuss death.

My Mum worked as a probate executive, supporting people to write wills, deal with dead people’s estates, and generally providing support to older people once they moved into care homes to protect their wishes. As a young child we were toured around care homes at Christmas or Easter to visit Mum’s clients (or sometimes people that weren’t her clients but who didn’t have anyone else to visit them) and spend time with them when other people would have visitors. As a teenager and young adult I attended a couple of funerals with Mum, in some small part as moral support, no doubt in some small part out of boredom or curiosity but mostly in an attempt to give some recognition to someone who had lived a life and died alone – on a number of occasions there would be just three or four of us to witness those funerals (Mum, myself, a care home manager or staff member and the person taking the ceremony), on one or two occasions where a person lived alone it would just be Mum and I.

I often joke about it but we were so comfortable with death in my family that when my big brother needed a work experience placement he ended up spending a week at the local undertakers. An experience that he really enjoyed and I’m sure was much more interesting than the week I spent in Natwest Bank. I think my school would have had an absolute fit if I’d suggested I was going to shadow an undertaker, so banking it was.

This week I’m going to try and blog a few times about #dyingmatters. In the hope that it sparks some interest or debate amongst people, or that it provides an excuse or prompt for you to discuss death with your nearest and dearest (if you need one). I promise it won’t all be doom and gloom, I think I’ll do one post about eulogies, one on memorial benches as an artefact of a life and death, maybe one about Dad and one about discussing death – just in case Salt n Pepa didn’t provide enough advice. Let me know if you have any special requests! Now…

Let’s talk about death, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be

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3 thoughts on “Let’s talk about death #dyingmatters

  1. My friend’s son, who I have known since he was little, did an amazing eulogy today. It wasn’t forced or stuffy just very down to earth. Just like his dad actually. X

  2. Hello George, and thank you for posting this. [Disclaimer – I am in my mother’s house, it’s after midnight, we been talking about stuff, and I’ve been drinking.]

    I hope your blog influences a lot of people, because you speak the truth, from a big heart and with a lot of compassion, and we can all learn from that. But for me, this post explains the way I felt about from you from the day I met you.

    Apart from the really nice eyes and the brain the size of a planet, I sensed that you had death all around you, and woundedness and healing and compassion and solidarity and love.

    And that made you a very important person in my life, instantly, in a way that just did not intersect with anything socially acceptable. Because how do you say to someone, ‘Hey, I’d really like to meet you for coffee sometime and talk about death.’

    So, now you have asked people to talk, I will do my best to make a contribution that is as much from my heart as I sense tihs is from yours.

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